Juggling with the future of 5G virtual reality gaming

Did you know that network lags experienced during virtual reality (VR) gaming are three times more stressful for gamers than lags experienced while playing on a PC? This is because poor network performance in VR overloads the brain, and is as exhausting as juggling balls and being asked to respond to questions simultaneously.

The 5G virtual reality gaming experience

It’s 2pm in the afternoon at Ericsson’s offices in Spain, and I am waiting for our next online gamer to arrive. Aged 27, Alejandro is a professional eSports player and is among the 70 other online gamers who will participate in a unique applied neuroscience study to assess the subconscious impact of network latency on VR gaming.

He walks in and we wire him up with brainwave monitoring EEG headsets, pulse meters and an eye tracking device that will measure his biometric indicators: heart rate, stress level, engagement rate and cognitive overload, all while playing a multiplayer first-person shooter (FPS) game – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO). Little does he know that we will be manipulating the network connection at the backend and will add network lags to the gameplay every few seconds.

As a result, he fumes and throws around some swear words (common reactions from a gamer experiencing poor network connection) before he settles to kill some bad guys in the game. Moving over from the PC, we ask him to put on a VR headset and play a similar multiplayer FPS game, but now in VR. A few seconds into the game and Alejandro is back to the profanity, but this time is more frustrated and resigns to the fact that there is very little he can do to control the outcome of this game. He tries to reload his virtual rifle: but his virtual hand won’t let him pull the level or drop in another clip of ammo. Another time, he races toward an enemy soldier, gun at the ready, when suddenly the enemy disappears. Another time, he misses some shots at close range and is killed before he can even see his killer. Game over in a fraction of a second!

During the experiment, all measurements on his biometric indicators were taken, and it was time to reveal that we had added network lags in both his PC and VR gameplay to simulate different network latency scenarios. He was not amused, but confirmed that he would never play in VR if this was the eventual experience.

Young women in front of computer

Over the period of the next few weeks Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab, Neurons Inc., and Vodafone Spain analyzed thousands of neuro measurements, and came across some very interesting conclusions that provide guidance on the demands that will be put on 5G networks to enable use cases like ultra-low latency VR gaming. But why focus on VR gaming? Our biggest 5G expectation study – Towards a 5G consumer future – suggests that live immersive VR gaming is one service that consumers predict will go mainstream within 1 to 2 years of the commercial launch of 5G.

Our study revealed that network lags in VR were three times more stressful for gamers as compared to playing on a PC. Even with a network latency of 15ms, VR by itself is very cognitively demanding for consumers.

To put this into perspective, this is like being asked to juggle balls while answering questions simultaneously. Asking the brain to multitask and shift attention from one activity to another causes the brain to burn up oxygenated glucose so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time.

A laggy experience in VR results in the same outcome, and leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance of gamers. It’s as if 5 to 10 years were added to their age.

While we established that the ultra-low latency demands on a network for VR gaming are very stringent and would benefit from the promise of 5G networks, just ensuring that the network latency is good enough will not ensure a good VR experience. Operators need to have an end-to-end view of the network quality if they intend to offer a great VR experience. There is latency built into the VR headset, and a lot of moving parts like the location of the game server and the current state of the network which will govern the end user experience – all factors to take into consideration.

Technologies such as 5G, edge computing and distributed cloud will be crucial when operators start thinking of offering latency-sensitive services like VR gaming, or else the future of this experience will be like juggling balls while talking. Until then, I’ll just let myself age gracefully and not because of poor experience in virtual reality.

5G virtual reality gaming demo

Want to see more of what Ericsson is doing with 5G and virtual reality gaming? Check out how 5G will transform mobile gaming in an ultra-low latency demo staged by Ericsson, Intel and Telstra on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Virtual Reality. Ericsson and China Unicom launch Gigabit network in China

Discover more insights into consumer expectations for 5G in the full Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab report: Towards a 5G consumer future.

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